Students attend a Saturdays R-4 Kids cooking class

Saturdays R-4 Kids Classes Cultivate Skills and Connection

“I want them to have an excellent experience at Francis Tuttle. I want them to leave saying I made this, and it tastes great and looks great.” – Vera Cheek, Saturdays R-4 Kids Instructor

Walk through the Francis Tuttle Technology Center culinary area on a Saturday and you might see a group of young chefs honing their skills. For many students, the Saturdays R-4 Kids classes are the first step in an ongoing connection with the technology center. 

Vera Cheek is the long-time instructor of the kids’ cooking classes, which are open to students ages 5 to 11. She has also been a full-time employee of Francis Tuttle since 1996 and currently works as an advisor on the Rockwell Campus. 

“I always tell the kids I’m more excited about those classes than maybe they are,” Cheek shared. “I really look forward to teaching them, and it’s a fun age group. I think it is so important that we get their interest started early, and what better life skill to have than to know how to cook?”

Past classes have focused on a range of both sweet and savory dishes, including pizza, cheesecake, meatballs, apple pie, cupcakes, cinnamon rolls, donuts, and baguettes. Holiday-themed classes are also held, and Cheek’s students have baked Christmas cookies, gingerbread houses, heart-shaped cakes for Valentine’s Day, and more. 

Along with leading students through cooking a recipe each class, Cheek educates them about prep work and clean up. Students are expected to keep their stations clean and wash their own dishes. 

Cheek teaches the correct terminology for equipment and ingredients so students are equipped to cook outside of class, too. She also tries to limit equipment used, for example teaching students to hand mix doughs in case they do not have a mixer at home. 

According to Cheek, it is not uncommon for past Saturdays R-4 Kids students to then attend Summer Quest classes. Some of the kids then later enroll in a Francis Tuttle Career Training program either as a high school or adult student. 

Culinary student Allison Cook
Before joining Francis Tuttle's Culinary Arts program, Allison Cook attended Saturdays R-4 Kids classes.

Allison Cook, who recently finished her junior year at Putnam City High School, is one of those students. She consistently took the cooking classes for about two years and just wrapped up her first year in the Culinary Arts program at Francis Tuttle. 

One of Cook’s favorite classes was when she learned about cupcakes, different piping tips and various ways to pipe frosting. Cook recalls Cheek being sweet and helpful as an instructor.

“She made us feel very welcome in the class while still teaching us the proper techniques for everything,” Cook said.  “The classes were fun and helped me realize how much science goes into baking.” 

Cook added that seeing the environment and interacting with “great teachers” in the Saturday classes made the decision to come to Francis Tuttle as a high school student even easier. She said her experience so far has been “life changing.” 

Check often sees former Saturdays R-4 Kids students while walking in the hallways at Francis Tuttle or as a visitor to Chef Ginger Lugo’s classroom. She is even recognized by former students when she is off campus.

Sometimes, they enroll in programs other than culinary, like one Cheek mentioned who attended the Saturdays R-4 Kids classes for about five or six years, participated in Summer Quest, and completed the Pre-Nursing program. 

“I see kids all over the place who came to the classes,” Cheek said. “It’s the best feeling you can have to realize you made an impact on a student’s life. Even though they don’t always choose culinary, I am glad to see students come back to Francis Tuttle.” 

To enroll in the upcoming Saturdays R-4 Kids classes or check out other Lifelong Learning Courses offered to the community, visit the Francis Tuttle website 

by Chelsey Koppari - June 4, 2024